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Heart Symptoms in Women

By Lynn Farris ; Updated July 27, 2017

According to the American Heart Association, heart disease is the number one killer of women in the United States today. It is also the number one cause of disability. The National Institutes of Health concurs with the AHA’s assessment and states that coronary heart disease affects one in 10 women over the age of 18. The older a woman gets, the more likely she is to have heart disease. Strokes are the third leading cause of death in the U.S. and a leading cause of serious disability. Therefore, it is critical to reduce the causes of heart disease, to be familiar with the symptoms and to know what to do in an emergency.

Pain in the Chest

Most of us are familiar with the classic heart attack symptoms popularized in books and movies: a man, normally, clutches his hands over his heart, gasping in pain, and falls over. While that is certainly a definitive symptom, much less dramatic ones exist, of which one should be aware.

The number one symptom of a heart attack is pain in the chest. This can be a pain that comes and goes. It can last only a few minutes and be defined merely as discomfort. Many describe it as pressure, squeezing or fullness.

Other Symptoms of Heart Attacks

While pain in the chest is a classic symptom, the NIH reports that 30 to 37 percent of women do not experience chest pain before or during a heart attack and even 17 to 27 percent of men do not. They further state that the “Absence of chest pain is a strong predictor for missed diagnosis and treatment delays.”

Other symptoms of a heart attack are unexplained discomfort or pain in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach. Other symptoms include fatigue, unexplained shortness of breath, dizziness, lightheadedness, nausea, vomiting, weakness, indigestion, loss of appetite and breaking out in a cold sweat.

Symptoms of a stroke

Another heart related problem is a stroke. The symptoms of a stroke, defined by the American Heart Association, include sudden numbness particularly on one side of the body; a severe headache with no cause; confusion; trouble walking; trouble talking; loss of balance; dizziness; and trouble seeing in one or both eyes.

Ways To Prevent Heart Problems

The number one suggestion to decrease your risk of heart problems is to stop smoking. Others include controlling your blood pressure, your cholesterol level, your diabetes, if you suffer from it, and your weight. Additionally, you should exercise regularly and eat a low fat diet. One should also be aware of the family history. For example, if your brother or father had a heart attack before age 55 or your mother or sister had a heart attack before age 65, you are at a higher risk for a heart attack.


Talk with your doctors about any and all medications, including medicines to control blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes. Many people believe that taking an aspirin a day will lower their risk of strokes and heart attacks. While aspirin does make the blood thinner, it could have other unintended consequences, so talk with your physician before you start an aspirin regimen. Additionally, many women believe that hormone replacement therapy used for menopause helps prevent heart disease. There is now research indicating that hormone replacement therapy may cause more harm than it prevents. Talk with your physician to determine whether hormone replacement therapy is right for you.

What To Do If You Suspect a Heart Attack or Stroke

Time is of the essence. Don’t wait because you may be embarrassed by calling 911 for a false alarm. Women, in particular, tend to minimize their symptoms and wait too long to call for help. The American Heart Association strongly recommends calling 911 at the first sign of a stroke or heart attack, as the Emergency Medical Service workers are trained to start treatment as soon as they arrive. Driving to the hospital and waiting can delay treatment by more than an hour compared to what you will experience with EMS. Additionally, if you suspect a stroke, write down the time the symptoms started. Medication can be given, if less than three hours from the start of the symptoms, that can minimize the long-term effect of strokes. If you are alone after you call for EMS, unlock the door and call a neighbor or friend for help. If at all possible, do not lay down. Make it easy for EMS to help you.

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